Ra‘anan Boustan is a Research Scholar in the Program in Judaic Studies at Princeton University. Before coming to Princeton, he was Associate Professor of Ancient and Jewish History at the University of California, Los Angeles. Boustan’s research and teaching explore the dynamic intersections between Judaism and other Mediterranean religious traditions in late antiquity, with a special focus on the impact of Christianization on Jewish culture and society. Boustan is the author of From Martyr to Mystic (2005) and co-author of The Elephant Mosaic Panel in the Synagogue at Huqoq (2017). In addition to editing numerous books, he is currently Editor-in-Chief of the journals Jewish Studies Quarterly and Studies in Late Antiquity. Boustan serves as the site historian for the Huqoq Excavation Project in lower eastern Galilee and collaborates with Dr. Karen Britt on the publication of the mosaic floor of the Huqoq synagogue.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XXV, October 8 & 9, 2022
Dreams of the Big City: Depictions of Cities and Urban Spaces in Rural Churches and Synagogues
This presentation focuses on images of cities and their urban spaces in the floor mosaics of rural churches and synagogues in Palestine, Arabia, and Syria from Late Antiquity (third to eighth centuries CE). The symbolic importance of urban life was especially pronounced in the eastern Mediterranean, where an archipelago of great cities held the Roman world together. Archaeology demonstrates that, throughout this period, cities were regularly sites of building projects that were intended to reshape their built environments and reorient their urban designs in order to accommodate changing civic, imperial, and religious practice and institutions. Contemporary written sources produced by civic and religious elites likewise reflect these developments. Attracted to the intellectual environment and professional opportunities provided by cities, authors often lavished attention on their buildings, monuments, and urban designs as the setting for the civilized way of life they so prized. But how did the residents of small towns and rural villages, who lived beyond the charmed spaces of the big city, perceive this vast investment of both economic resources and ideological value in urban life? Did they turn away from the allure of the big city? Recent discoveries and research suggest that rural populations were no less interested in big cities than those who happened to live in them. Shining a light on this understudied body of visual materials from rural churches and synagogues, we show that these communities likewise used urban imagery to articulate their sense of belonging within the wider world of the Roman east.